The Massachusetts Senate race is now a toss up.
Buoyed by a huge advantage with independents and relative disinterest from Democratic voters in the state, Republican Scott Brown leads Martha Coakley 48-47.
Here are the major factors leading to this surprising state of affairs:
-As was the case in the Gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia last year, it looks like the electorate in Massachusetts will be considerably more conservative than the one that showed up in 2008. Obama took the state by 26 points then, but those planning to vote next week only report having voted for him by 16.
-Republicans are considerably more enthusiastic about turning out to vote than Democrats are. 66% of GOP voters say they are 'very excited' about casting their votes, while only 48% of Democrats express that sentiment- and that's among the Democrats who are planning to vote in contrast to the many who are apparently not planning to do so at this point.
-Brown has eye popping numbers with independents, sporting a 70/16 favorability rating with them and holding a 63-31 lead in the horse race with Coakley. Health care may be hurting Democratic fortunes with that group, as only 27% of independents express support for Obama's plan with 59% opposed.
-In a trend that's going to cause Democrats trouble all year, voters disgusted with both parties are planning to vote for the one out of power. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Brown's standing is that only 21% of Massachusetts voters have a favorable opinion of Congressional Republicans...but at the same time only 33% view Congressional Democrats favorably. And among voters who have a negative take on both parties, who account for more than 20% of the electorate, Brown leads 74-21.
-Because he's basically been untouched so far, Brown's favorability spread is a remarkable +32, at 57/25. For some perspective on how good those numbers are, Bob McDonnell was at a +20 spread with Virginia voters in our final poll there before going on to a 17 point victory.
All that said Coakley can certainly still win this race, perhaps even by a comfortable margin. Here's what she needs to do:
-Change the electorate. There are a lot more potential Coakley voters than Brown ones out there in Massachusetts, but she needs to get them more energized. For instance young voters were a crucial part of the Obama coalition but they're only accounting for 11% of likely voters right now and among those planning to turn out she has just a three point advantage.
-Make it about Ted Kennedy's legacy. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this poll is that among those planning to vote 47% oppose the health care bill to only 41% who express support for it. Clearly voters who loved Kennedy and want to see comprehensive health care reform become a reality are not grasping how important coming out to vote for Coakley is to making that goal happen.
-Tie Brown to national Republicans. Brown is surprisingly popular, but given his short time on the statewide political stage in Massachusetts it's likely that favorable image is a mile wide and an inch deep. We know that the overall GOP brand is terrible with Massachusetts voters, and Coakley needs to get voters to think of Brown as one of them. I'd run ads juxtaposing the fawning of conservative media celebrities like Sean Hannity over Brown with some of their other comments that progressive voters would find offensive and ask voters in the state if that's really what they want from their Senator.
Here's the reality: the Republicans and GOP leaning independents are going to come out and vote for Scott Brown. There's no doubt about that. But there's also a much larger pool of potential Democratic voters in the state. If Coakley can get them out, she wins. But this race is well past the stage where Democrats can take it for granted that will happen. It will be fascinating to see what happens the final ten days and we'll do a second poll on the race next weekend.
Full results here
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